I can’t tell you how often I spend the first five to ten minutes after recess diffusing social problems that occurred outside during unstructured play time. I would love to get that time back so I can use it to teach instead. I usually end up problem solving out the situation with students. Wouldn’t it be nice to teach them to problem solve it on their own? Isn’t that a skill that people need in life?
Wherever there is more than one person, there will be a difference. This makes life exciting and interesting, but it can also cause conflicts and problems that need to be resolved. If we expect our youths to be successfulstudents and then later on, successful adults, they must know how to problem solve.
Here are action steps for teaching problem solving. Notice that each action word begins with a letter of the alphabet A to F. This makes it easy for students to remember the steps.
Analyze the situation
You might need to teach the academic vocabulary word of analyze. Have students understand that to analyze the situation means to really think carefully about each specific part of the situation. Take it apart and consider all aspects of what is going on. These four questions can help them analyze.
- What is the problem?
- How do I feel?
- What do I need or want?
- Do I need more information?
These questions help students identify their own perspective and identify what they need and want. Reflection is an important step in problem solving because both sides need to be able to explain their perspective clearly.
After students analyze the situation, the next step is to brainstorm potential options. Remind students that the first option they think of might not always be the best one so it is important to brainstorm multiple ideas. When you brainstorm , rather than evaluating, simply list all ideas at this point.
Consider each option
After brainstorming possible options it is time to carefully consider each one. Make sure to think about the consequences of each choice. The following questions are a great jumping off point for carefully considering.
- What might happen if I do this?
- Is it safe?
- How might other people feel about it?
- Is it ethical? (You might need to teach what ethical means. I know my 6th graders struggle understanding this word. I taught them that something that is ethical is considered a good or right thing to do.)
Decide on and Do the best option
After careful consideration of each option, decide on which is the best one. The next part is to come up with a plan for taking action.
Evaluate if it works
Not every plan will work. It is important to acknowledge this and to realize you might need to change plans. In order to do that, you must evaluate. Two great questions to ask when evaluating are:
- Do I need to decide on a different option?
- Do I need to come up with a different plan for carrying out my decision?
If necessary: Figure out another way.
It is also important to teach kids that sometimes they may realize after doing all these steps that adult intervention is need to help solve the problem. There are some times that the other person involved doesn’t want the problem resolved. When my students come to me with a problem, I ask them if they have tried steps A-E first. If they haven’t I won’t intervene unless it is a dangerous situation. I want my students to learn to try and problem solve first and not immediately jump to having someone else solve their problem for them.
Here is the sheet that I use with my students. When they come to me with an issue that needs to be problem solved, I have them fill this out with the other involved parties. If they fill it out and things are still not working, then I will get involved. More times than not, this works and I feel that my students are learning a valuable life skill.